I’M THE first to admit, nothing stays “the same”. It never has. Take my neck for instance (many have tried). Once it was wrinkle-free and smooth, now it is beginning to resemble the shrivelled skin of an over-cooked chicken! I realise abstinence and moderation in all things can assist in delaying the sequence of deterioration, but sadly, such considerations have often eluded me. Hence the ever changing image that confronts me in the bathroom mirror each morning. The phrase “who the hell is that?” springs to mind.
When it comes to urban expansion, perhaps the TRNC’s “planning” masters have suffered from similar unintended omissions. Building “booms” are often welcome, but they need to be managed. Good for employment, good for housing provision and good for the economy in general, undoubtedly. Too much of it, of the wrong sort, in the wrong place, and the habitat deteriorates as fast as my neck, especially if it goes on apace, without the necessary infrastructure improvements to sustain it.
Given all the building that is going on here, it not only surprises me that power cuts are less frequent, it is a wonder that the power station has survived the experience intact! The shout “Blimey, what was that bang?” as Series 23 of the latest TV blockbuster vanishes from your screen, has miraculously been avoided. Well done Kıb-Tek. Just one little niggle: what happens when all those largely empty tower blocks are occupied? Or when all those recently appeared, concrete and glass giant cubes, more tightly packed together than a tin of sardines and ingeniously marketed as “villas”, are happily inhabited by folk who don’t suffer from claustrophobia? Often built in traditional villages where they stand out like a sore thumb, I can understand them being attractive if you currently live in a tower block in central İstanbul, but otherwise? Forget it.
What happened to building the type of villas that many currently live in? Those that retain a Turkish Cypriot style, with their own garden and consequent privacy because the next door neighbour is not situated just outside the sitting room window? Where you can sit outside and eat your breakfast without next door watching how many slices of toast you have? Especially from 10 floors up? Don’t the planners ever think that building a giant construct right next to one- or two-storey homes might be considered intrusive and very damaging economically to the long resident, poor soul living there? It’s not so much the type of development that is the problem, it’s where it often ends up that puzzles me. I haven’t suffered all this, but I know many that have, including Turkish Cypriots.
The TRNC must not make the same mistakes as South Cyprus. Limassol was once charming and very Cypriot. Now, with about 13 miles of hotels and tower blocks, it has turned into the usual concrete jungle associated with large parts of the whole Mediterranean coast. It is indistinguishable from its rivals. Girne (Kyrenia) especially, whilst still clinging on to its description as “the jewel of the North” by its fingertips, is in danger of heading the same way. All rather vital considerations for a country that desperately needs to attract post-pandemic tourism back. The TRNC’s unique and charming character is its biggest attraction. Treasure it. Build by all means, but keep it in character.
The TRNC has its mountain range, a protective and beautiful backdrop to its northern coastline. Stand in Girne old town and that backdrop is being obliterated by tower blocks. Architectural wonders, no doubt, but compared to the natural vista, the word “eyesore” springs to mind. As Girne spreads, traffic jams proliferate. What is the point of the TRNC having so many historically significant and beautiful architectural attractions if tourists struggle to get to them? No point at all. Sitting on the beach is one thing, sitting in your car crawling towards it, quite another. It’s that infrastructure problem again (or lack of it). Perhaps we need to stop putting the cart before the donkey. Development should follow infrastructure, not the other way round.
When I first visited the TRNC in the late 1980s, it was inevitably a very different place. Girne was a small town, its harbour quaint. Doğankoy was a completely separate village from Girne. So was Ozanköy. Both villages are slowly disappearing in the urban sprawl. They are not alone. The Doğankoy roundabout area now looks more like downtown Manhattan than a village. From the military base on the coast road, west of Girne, to the Deniz Kızı hotel, there was little except the odd traditional house and the pottery. Olive groves proliferated, not concrete.
By anybody’s standards it was charming and beautiful. Old bangers and the odd donkey were the order of the transportation day. It was also poor. It could not stay like that, nor would I wish it to. Turkish Cypriots are entitled to better themselves like every other country on the planet, but destroying the goose that lays the golden egg is no answer. Sadly, that appears to be what is happening. The TRNC’s uniqueness needs to be protected, not destroyed. It needs to maintain its significant difference from the Greek Cypriot South. Becoming a “Mark II” version is no future at all. We need two states in more ways than just international recognition of that indisputable fact. We need to LOOK as though we are two states, not just claim to be.
If the planning process here is strategically framed as well as individually monitored, then I am baffled as to how haphazard the result appears to be. Designated areas for types of development, like industrial, commercial or residential are fine, but control over whether adjacent developments in each category are complimentary is also vital.
That last bit appears to be missing. We need direct flights. We also need a reason to ensure folk still get on the aircraft. If we become Limassol, that is where folk will go.
It is not too late, but it is getting close. More control please, Mr Planner.